Two Walls and some lessons by Ka Mentong Laurel

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November 9, 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall that divided the Western liberal-democratic and capitalist world led by the U.S. from the Eastern socialist bloc led by the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union disintegrated in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, just two years later, ending the Cold War and all that it meant: the “bipolar” world divided into East and West, the Communist and Western blocs, and eventually terminating the threat of nuclear Armageddon as the two sides cut-back nuclear weapons stockpiles.

Many saw the Fall of the Berlin Wall as the final victory of the Western liberal-democratic and capitalist system over communism and socialism. In celebration of the triumph Japanese-American political philosopher-scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote the book “The End of History” positing the thought that history had reached its final truth – liberal democracy and capitalism.

In 1989 I was a 38 years-old in my second year as administrator of the UN-GOP (United Nations-Government of the Philippines) project Philippine Refugee Processing Center, a temporary relocation-training center for Indo-China refugees (victims too of the East-West rivalry then) before resettlement to third countries such as the U.S. I thought too, as I remarked to Doug Ramsey the U.S. coordinator then, that America had won it all.

A couple of years later as a columnist of Today newspaper I commented on Fukuyama’s book and its idea of “men without chests”, i.e. war signaling like “chest thumping” as liberal-democracy settled everything through debate and elections. But my wonder was quickly provoked when Bush Sr. invaded Iraq in ’92 and later Clinton bombed Yugoslavia and the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in ‘99.

Between that 1st Iraq War and Belgrade bombing I got into deep questioning of the liberal-democratic ideas called the Washington Consensus: floating exchange rates, trade liberalization, deregulation and privatization. These measure withered the PHL State: privatized power and water raised rates, and currency liberalization led to the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis and contagion when in a year’s time the peso fell from P 24.50 to P 54.00 to the US $.

Through the 90’s I started doubting the liberal-democratic and capitalist model, marked by the unnecessary wars in Iraq and Yugoslavia, the Asian Financial Crisis (which China weathered and alleviated for Asia by keeping the Yuan exchange rate steady), then the ‘99 Battle in Seattle against the Washington Consensus globalization, the burst of the dotcom bubble in 2000. The flaws of Fukuyaman’s “End of History” thesis was already showing up.

The end of “chest thumping” should have ended wars, but at the turning of the 20th to the 21st Century the U.S. started its secret chest-thumping. Behind the scenes the U.S. think tanks were already planning the PNAC, Project for a New American Century which called for a “new Pearl Harbor” to trigger a series of wars to establish U.S. dominance of the World. In his 2002 State of the Nation Address President Bush Jr. finally announced the “Axis of Evil” the U.S. would target.

That “new Pearl Harbor” was the 2001, 9/11 World Trade Center terror plane attacks in New York destroy Buildings 1 and 2 of 7 buildings. Yet, Building 7 not hit by any plane also burned and collapsed onto its own footprint. 2,977 died in the attack and President Bush Jr. had his “Pearl Harbor” moment to declare a “War on Terror”, invade Afghanistan weeks later, and enact the Homeland Security Act with draconian security and surveillance.

To this day, however, up to 10% of the American people believe the 9/11 terror attack was an “inside job” for profit and justification for war. To this day over 50% of Americans still doubt that U.S. security agencies’ have revealed all about the 9/11 terror attack. Donald Trump himself a skeptic, as president ordered declassification of the 9/11 documents but as of late 2019 families of the 9/11 victims still say not all have been released.

Ten days after 2001 9/11 Gen. Wesley Clark, commander in Yugoslavia war, was told that the U.S. was going to attack “seven countries in seven years” (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, etc.). Four months after 9/11 on January 2002 Bush announced the “Axis of Evil” and the 2nd Iraq War followed, and a decade of “human rights” regime change interventions and color revolutions abounded. Gen. Clark only went public about the planned wars in 2007.

Flashing back to past history in 1978 in the land of the Great Wall an organized opening up started, but in June 1989 the West drummed up a “Tienanmen Massacre” and thousands of imagined casualties that Western media sensationalized that never was, neither ever a “tank man” blocking tanks to the Square as they were actually driving away from Tienanmen. Unlike Soviet Russia at the Berlin Wall, China restored order and focused on its economic development.

In 2001 China became a member of the World Trade Organization which the West hoped would transform China to be more like them. China went on with its socialism with Chinese characteristics, GDP grew from $1 ,339.41-trillion that year to $ 13,605.18-trillion in 2018. China continued its “miraculous” growth while the U.S. suffered its worst financial crisis in 2008 caused by speculative frenzy inherent in a deregulated liberal finance capitalist system.

The U.S. financial collapse of 2008 was followed by unabated “quantitative easing” or money printing to save its financial ruling class. Elections never dislodged this financial class, always the electorate suffers. U.S. debt piled up to $ 21-trillions while shunning severe austerity the West prescribed to Asia in the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis. The U.S. is now in the throes of recession or a great depression redux revealing the flaws of the liberal-capitalist system.

At this juncture Fukuyama begins to backtrack. In a 2018 interview in the New Statesman America, Fukuyama said, “The Chinese are arguing openly that it (Chinese system) is a superior one because they can guarantee stability and economic growth over the long run in a way that democracy can’t… if in another 30 years, they’re bigger than the US, Chinese people are richer and the country is still holding together… they’ve got a real argument.”

China’s socialist-market economy and people’s democracy has stepped onto the world’s center stage. Apparently the more, if not the most, successful system today. What took other countries centuries China did in 70 years – transforming an old, overpopulated, impoverished feudal society to a modern nation and the world’s second largest economy and advanced in key technological fields – and now seemingly winning a trade war aimed at stopping it.

China attributes its triumph to socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strong leadership in a “whole process” democracy which President Xi Jinping explained in November 7, 2019 at the party plenum. The West accuses China of “authoritarianism” and lacking electoral democracy, but in reality China’s democracy is more effective, relying on exhaustive grassroots and national consensus building, in defining goals, drawing up plans and implementation.

In 2017 at the 19th Party Congress President Xi Jinping said China’s model, “… offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence…” Yes, there is likely a better economic and democratic model of economic socialism with market mechanisms, and a political democracy based on consensus building and not simply popular elections prone to money and vested interests.

Can and will Filipinos learn from China for a “miracle”? I am not filled with optimism by this question. Many things work to slow the Filipinos’ learning curve. Americans learn faster as an October 2019 YouGov poll report that 70% of American millennials say would vote for a socialist in their next election. Giving up direct voting for a national leader is more difficult, and for many Filipinos even impossible as that may mean giving up a month’s sack of rice. Besides, what would the Catholic church say? ###

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